East Texas gets a new kind of politician
A new generation is entering politics, and they’re coming into the game through some traditionally unusual ways.
At a marijuana rally in Dallas a few years ago, one officer who was working security at the event was happy to see so many young people finding a way to get involved in the political scene. “Kids these days aren’t hardly involved in politics at all, so it’s refreshing to see them stand up for something they believe in, and hopefully that leads them to further activism in areas other than marijuana legalization.”
Many young people have realized, while talking to those that represent them is a vital part of being effective in politics, the need for good candidates is strong. More people have been stepping up to fight entrenched politicians all around Texas, typically running as Libertarians and Democrats.
While many set their focus on those in higher office, the real battles for gaining ground occur at the lower levels.
Jared Cates, a 33-year-old native Texan from Nacogdoches who earns his living as a motorcycle mechanic, has set his sights on one of those offices, county commissioner.
Essentially, if elected, he would sit on the County Commissioner’s Court, which is responsible for managing the day to day operations of the county. This includes hiring county employees, overseeing budgets, and maintaining roads and bridges. Policy for activities on county property is also legislated by county commissioners.
Cates has been active in the community, working with organizations such as Nac Parks Advocacy League, Special Olympics, Relay for Life, Resilient Nacogdoches, Nacogdoches Unity Coalition, Community Involvement Program, Nac NORML, and a recycled glass art non profit called Kutt-Bottle Art. However, he found that as he worked with those organizations, local politicians weren’t listening to them. He further felt that they were not representing the community’s values on many issues.
Some of those issues include fracking, which Cates has opposed, and maintaining water rights, given the pollution of drinking water by fracking fluid.
He has been most vocal about marijuana law reform though. In 2010 his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Watching her suffer through the available treatments inspired him to take action.
“I began to speak out on, and work toward, marijuana reform in Texas,” Cates says. “This led me to actively support other civil liberties issues including race and gender equality, marriage equality, and women’s health, while working with local groups dedicated to improving our community for all of its inhabitants.”
It’s not unheard of for such people to win office either. Earlier this year an outspoken medical cannabis patient and military veteran, Jeremiah Looney, won his election to become mayor of his town in Whitewright.
Having given the idea of running for office some thought, then-chair of the local Democratic party, Stephen Wright, asked Cates to run as a Democrat.
So began his journey of running for a position in deeply Republican east Texas that has not seen a Democratic candidate in 16 years.
It has been a constant struggle for his campaign to gain ground given the steep climb, however Cates attributes the success he has experienced to his deep involvement with his community. To date, he has raised $1,300, most of which has been spent on advertising such as signs, literature, t-shirts, and buttons.
“In this economy, people have a hard time parting with hard earned money to support a candidate that has a difficult election ahead of him,” Cates says. “The donors we do have are passionate about our progressive message and what it could mean for Nacogdoches.”
So far his biggest outreach effort has been some phone banking by volunteers.
Asked what his most important issues are and what he would be able to do immediately upon being elected, Cates states “One thing I have learned, already, is that nothing in local government happens immediately. But some of my highest priorities include taking steps to revolutionize how we, as a community, look at economic development and job creation, instituting cite and release for misdemeanor marijuana possession, and laying the groundwork to ensure that our local environment and historical sites will be protected and preserved for future generations.”
He adds, “I feel that creating a resilient local economy that works for those that power it would be my top priority, because so many issues in our community stem from a struggling local economy. It certainly won’t happen overnight… But I am confident that we can breathe new life into this community.”
Talking about revolutionizing economic development in the community, Cates says that “I basically want to look at what we, as a county, buy and sell and ensure we do as much of that business in Nacogdoches County as possible. By doing this, we can ensure that our local economy becomes stronger, and more self sustaining by refocusing our economic development efforts to support local businesses.”
Cates believes his campaign will benefit from having Stephen F. Austin State University included in his precinct, and he has had many opportunities to reach out to the student body through organizations such as College Democrats, Millennial Vote Initiative, NAACP, and Pride NAC.
The newly created 501(c)(4) organization Our Revolution, spearheaded by Bernie Sanders, has included Cates as one of their featured candidates. However, it is unclear if this will be helpful to his campaign.
Incumbent Pct. 3 County Commissioner Jim Elder has opted not to run for re-election this year, which attracted a four-way race for the Republican nomination.
Just over 2,000 voters turned out to send that election into a primary run-off. Robin Dawley, a property tax appraiser for the Nacogdoches Central Appraisal District, went on to win during the run-off with a vote of 506-284.
Dawley reportedly has a strong showing of yard signs placed around the precinct, however he has no online presence, nor has he made any substantial statements to local media. He is well-known throughout the community however, and looks to have a strong showing at the polls through name recognition alone.
More information can be found about the Cates campaign at www.catesforpct3.com.